Augmented Reality Becomes a Reality in Oil and Gas

For years, augmented reality (AR) seemed like a far-off dream for many industry applications, but the technology has grown so quickly that it’s now an accurate and cost-effective tool commonly found in the oil and gas sector. Today’s simple, compact devices are suitable for any size contractor and provide realtime, onsite views of proposed improvements. By using AR, users can speed design reviews, identify clashes, manage construction, and visualize underground assets.

The standard for AEC disciplines is design and construction based on 3D models. Approaches such as BIM, 4D construction or VDC (Virtual Digital Construction) are common. Real-time AR is the tool that brings 3D design to the site, where it can easily be implemented through all phases of design, construction, and operations.

Clearly, experienced users can easily call on 2D plan sets to visualize and analyze where and how proposed structures or easements might lay on (or in) the ground, but 3D visualization enables more people to see the spatial context of proposed improvements, and in some cases without visiting the site. AR can reveal problems before construction begins, delivering significant savings in time and costs.

SLICE OF REALITY

Look at your phone with the camera turned on. What you see is a real-time visual slice of the reality in front of you. Now, picture a 3D model of a proposed pipeline and easement lines, precisely tied to your location, and superimposed over the live view. As you walk around the site, the model updates in real time to show the features from any vantage point. This is what AR for underground infrastructure is all about.

Such solutions are not altogether new. What has changed is the ability to use AR in the field. There are numerous AR apps that run on a standard smartphone. With the addition of precise GPS for positioning and orientation, you can hold the full AR system in one hand. The system’s size and capabilities make it a ready tool for the demanding requirements of oil and gas development and operations.

AR IMPROVES DESIGN REVIEW AND CONSTRUCTION MANAGEMENT

In many projects, stakeholders visit a site to assess proposed construction, which is commonly marked by stakes. But for many people, a few stakes and a 2D plan are not sufficient to provide an accurate perception of the project. AR changes that.

“AR engages field and design staff at a level they haven’t been accustomed to,” said ONEC Technologies Director Joe Riordan. “Previously, operators and maintenance staff were handed something to operate and maintain but without opportunity for input. Now they are making valuable inputs.”

Using AR, ONEC’s construction staff can better visualize the end result. They can ask questions and avoid requests for information (RFIs) that can bring a project to a halt. For example, operators can identify access or interference issues, or maintenance staff can identify inappropriate clearances for their tools. The approach fosters good cooperation among engineers, designers, and construction people.

ONEC teams take designs to the field via a handheld AR solution. With its companion application, AR technology enables remote team members to see the project simultaneously. AR provides a simple solution for relaying project status and site conditions to the project management team, even those offsite.

When everyone has the same clear vision, it eliminates questions and disputes, Riordan noted. It results in lower costs and schedule savings.

Riordan added that once his clients see AR in action, they quickly embrace the new approach. “One project manager told us that he is a skeptic about some of the new technologies. He became a zealot of AR within an hour because we saved him rework and mistakes.”

EASING THE WAY

In Oklahoma, the engineering and surveying consulting firm Smith Roberts Baldischwiler (SRB) uses AR in working with landowners affected by development. To acquire needed rights and permits, SRB’s inhouse staff of landmen work with landowners to negotiate the location and terms of an easement.

The landmen and landowners need accurate information that everyone can understand. SRB Director of Surveying and Mapping Taylor Denniston said that situations often come up when a landman visits the landowner and has a paper copy of an easement. But only having paper makes it hard for owners to conceptualize how it is going to impact their land. In those cases, landowners will often ask for a few stakes to be set in the ground to help them visualize the plan. SRB uses AR to provide accurate onsite visualizations of proposed easements or structures.

Using AR, the SRB agent can walk the site with the owner, who can see the right-of-way lines on the display projected onto the ground and understand how it’s going to impact their property. If the owner requests changes, the alignments can be revised for the final agreements. For example, some planned construction might take out trees that the owner wants to protect. Together, the owner and landman can agree on how to adjust the alignment to avoid select assets.

Like ONEC, SRB recognizes the value of AR as a planning tool for pipelines and other oilfield work such as pump stations and wellheads. SRB engineers can take the digital 3D models to the field for design checks and verification. Designers can drop the model onto the site and see what it will look like, how tall a structure will be, and how it looks from nearby roads. The visualization helps SRB identify and resolve potential problems early in a project, avoiding delays that might occur after construction begins. “The ability to visualize the alignments, existing utilities, and rights-of-way on the ground is almost priceless,” said Denniston. “It streamlines the process, and you can speed through a project very fast.”

REDUCING BOUNDARIES

As AR becomes increasingly ubiquitous, users are expanding the variety of uses. Early adopters such as ONEC and SRB have found AR useful for increasing stakeholder engagement, improving inspections, and providing real-time project status. AR can show safe dig zones, delineate boundaries, or reveal underground utilities.

Today’s AR solutions have demolished the barriers of cost and complexity commonly associated with new technologies. Augmented reality is part of the currency of our modern lives—both in professional and consumer applications. For oil & gas companies, the pie in the sky has become meat and potatoes.

Stefania C. Radopoulou, PhD, is an expert on Outdoor Augmented Reality at Trimble. Learn more about Trimble’s AR solutions at trimble.com.

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